[27 May 2014]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Hundred Waters, a band from Gainesville, Florida, who has since relocated to Los Angeles, are probably best known for being the sole non-EDM band signed to Skrillex’s OWSLA imprint. Despite not being dance music, the group does have a rather electronic sensibility merged with that of indie pop. The outfit has been compared to everything from Stereolab to The Postal Service, Broadcast, Laura Nyro, and Björk, which is quite a range. But having listened to Hundred Waters’ latest album, The Moon Rang Like a Bell, I hear a little bit of R&B, particularly on second song “Murmurs”. I also hear, just a bit, a little of Chromatics, but that similarity might have to do with the fact that both bands have female vocalists and a low-key atmosphere. So, say what you will, there are a lot of reference points for the sound of Hundred Waters. And The Moon Rang Like a Bell is a record that is quite puzzling, because even though it doesn’t feel like a proper album front to back—more like a collection of same-y songs—there’s a great deal that’s worthwhile on this effort. Skrillex thinks highly of them, anyway.
The album gets off to a start that I can only describe as brave. “Show Me Love” is a multi-tracked a cappella song that lasts for little more than a minute and showcases lead singer Nicole Miglis’ pipes in the most complementary way possible. There’s also nothing quite like it on the rest of the LP, which happens to make it stick out like a sore thumb. But as an introduction, it works well and makes the point that the vocal performance of Miglis’ cooings is the focal point of much that follows. And it is those vocals we hear hiccupping on the next track, “Murmurs”. It’s a little fetching and annoying in the same breath, but the song generally works as a slow jam—on an album, natch, that is basically full of slow jams. The album actually grows a bit soft in the middle, with “Broken Blue” bleeding into “Chambers (Passing Trains)”. It’s a remarkable effect, but the main problem is that these two songs, along with “Down from the Rafters”, are a little on the sparse and bare side and create an impression that the mid-section of this piece is a little languid for its own good. That’s not to say that the songs aren’t first-rate, quite the contrary, but it might have been best if these pieces were spaced out a bit more.
However, all that said and done, The Moon Rang Like a Bell is full of startling tracks of indie dream-pop clarity. “Xtalk” might stick in your craw, and it has a certain eighties New Wave charm to it. By the same token, “[Animal]” is affecting in its glitchiness and has the same sound effects you might find in an old-school Nu Shooz song. (And when was the last time you heard from Nu Shooz, or heard that group namedropped into a review?) “Seven White Horses”, meanwhile, has a classical feel to it, with its lilting piano runs, and, here Hundred Waters kinda sounds a little on the Beach House side. “Innocent” follows through on a similar vibe, being somewhat dubby and reminiscent of something you can’t quite put a finger on, or feels as though is stuck on the tip of your tongue. Still, it’s a nice upbeat rave-up, moving at more than the snail pace of the rest of the album. And the six-minute “No Sound”, which sounds a lot like a hidden Kate Bush track, ends with a piercing sound, perhaps the sound of tinnitus ringing in your ears from much of the stellar material that came before it. The Moon Rang Like a Bell, indeed.
In all, this is an album that has its imperfections and what appears to be the odd auditory glitch every now and then, but that’s also part of the charm. This is a record that has a warped indie-pop ideal, and, even if it isn’t the wholly unified statement that you’d like it to be; it does have its peaks and valleys, but it is paradoxically made all the more stronger for it. This is an LP that sets a mood, that invites the listener to simply lie back and be taken in by its resonance. You wind up wanting to like The Moon Rang Like a Bell, and you do, but these are pieces that don’t seem to add up into a structured whole. Consider them, then, a smattering of quiet and lush pop tracks that offer their own individual rewards. While much can be said about the group wanting to hone its own particular sound, there’s a fair amount here that feels compelling and not quite like very much that is being released by the underground these days.
The Moon Rang Like a Bell is a document and a product that might leave you alternately breathless and bewildered, but it is a generally likeable outing. And the emphasis here is on that word “likable”. I found myself wanting to like this album a whole whack more than this writing may lead you to believe. I’d like to see where this group moves in the future, as I have to wonder with the backing of such a benefactor as Skrillex, where they might go if, you know, this group actually released something that felt a whole lot more like a bona fide, start to finish, album. As it stands, The Moon Rang Like a Bell feels remarkably piecemeal.